Piano Trio No.1 op.102 and Piano Trio No.4 op.158
Trio Opus 8
CPO 999 616 2001 DDD 61:12
Until recently Bernard Herrmann's venerable recording of Lenore was alone in being worthy of recommendation to a Raff novice without any qualms at all. Now, only a few months after the Quartetto di Milano's string quartet disc joined it, we can add a third CD to that select list. So, before you read on, hurry off and place your order now with your favourite CD store!
Welcome back. The four piano trios represent one of the central pillars of Raff's oeuvre but the concentration of recording companies on his orchestral output has denied any of them a hearing until now. They could hardly hope for a finer debut on disc. The Trio Opus 8 are an experienced team and the cellist, Mario di Secondi, will be remembered by Raff Society members for his persuasive performances in the 1st. Trio and the Cello Sonata at the Society's chamber recital in 1997. His two colleagues are just as committed to this music to judge by the power of the music making on display here.
Their interpretation of the 1st. Trio is an heroic one, heralded by the very start of the first movement where the slow opening phrase is soon overwhelmed by the passionate material. These first few minutes amply demonstrate the hallmark of Opus 8's playing in both works - precise ensemble, clear individual voices and an unerring ability to preserve the thrust of the music's momentum whilst glorying in the many moments of poetry conjured up by Raff along the way.
The ardour and angst of the first movement is followed by a lightening fast scherzo in which Eckhard Fischer masters the very exposed violin part to perfection. In his excellent and extensive insert notes the Society's own Matthias Wiegandt calls the magnificent slow movement "erotic" and there is certainly a languorous, yearning quality to Opus 8's haunting interpretation. They cap a near-flawless performance by dashing off the finale with brilliance and wit.
All the traits demonstrated in their interpretation of the c minor Trio are present in the D major too, although the more restrained nature of this piece makes for smaller and more subtle gestures - which Opus 8 duly supply. Any Raff lover would recognise the pen of the master from the opening of the work, with the cello spinning out a heartfelt melody over piano figurations. It is wonderfully captured by di Secondi and pianist Michael Hauber. This carefree movement is followed by a scherzo dominated by the piano and played at a more measured pace than that in the 1st. Trio, producing an almost incongruously threatening atmosphere. The following slow movement is marked by successive dialogues between the instruments. Taken at a walking pace, this is the gem of the work and is played with great sensitivity and finesse. Unfortunately, whilst Opus 8 make the best case possible for the finale, there is no disguising a "Raff on autopilot" movement when one hears one.
CPO's recording has presence and depth - the balance perhaps slightly favours the piano but all three instruments are clearly focused.
Newly revived repertoire needs top class performances to help it make its case and these two major works of Raff certainly get that on this essential CD for any Raffianer's collection. The companion disc with the other two Trios can now be awaited with eager anticipation.
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